Workers of the World Unite! May Day in the Mike Seeger and Broadside Collections

flyer from album FC25202 in the Mike Seeger Collection, Southern Folklife Collection , UNC Chapel HillFor all workers, past, present, and future on this 126th International Workers’ Day we present this promotional flyer for the 1978 Folk Song Festival in Helsinki Finland, found inserted in a LP sleeve (along with miniature sticker versions of the flyer) in the SFC’s Mike Seeger Collection, FC-25202.

The 1978 festival and flyer honored Chilean activist singer-songwriter Victor Jara who was murdered, along with thousands of other victims, by the Chilean Army a day after the military coup September 11, 1973. Jara’s 1969 composition “Plegaria a un Labrador” (“Public Prayer to a worker”) remains a powerful call for solidarity in the struggle for human rights. Hear Jara perform “Plegeria a un Labrador” with his group Quilapayún here.

Open reel tape, FT9374, in the Broadside Collection (20289) includes recordings from a series of 1974 benefit concerts for Chile organized by Phil Ochs in New York City after the death of President Salvador Allende, Victor Jara, and countless others. Musicians included Larry Estrige, Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, and Arlo Guthrie. The latter performed a song dedicated to the life of Victor Jara based on a poem written by Adrian Miller. Listen to that track below:

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And finally on this May Day we would like to leave you with one of Woody Guthrie’s protest ballads, “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos).” The heartbreaking song memorializes the nameless migrants killed in a plane crash in Los Gatos canyon in 1948. It is sung by Sis Cunningham, recorded on FS5695 in the Broadside Collection (20289).

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Fred Gerlach and Rev. Gary Davis at Town Hall, 1958

20239_pf0008_01_0004_Fred_Gerlach_Town Hall_1958_Photo by Ray Sullivan_Southern Folklife Collection

A couple of weeks ago, friend of the Southern Folklife Collection, Bob Carlin, brought in a few reels of 16mm film, 35mm negatives, and open reel tapes from the Fred Gerlach estate. More on the film on a future date, but Bob’s visit had me looking into the music of Fred Gerlach. A remarkable and innovative 12-string guitar player I first heard on volume 2 of Tompkins Square‘s brilliantly curated multi-volume guitar series, Imaginational Anthem, Gerlach released only three albums throughout his career: Twelve-String Guitar – Folk Songs and Blues Sung and Played by Fred Gerlach (Folkways, 1962), Songs My Mother Never Sang (Takoma, 1968), and a cassette, Easy Rider (Eyrie, 1993).

An active participant in the 1950s New York folk scene, Gerlach spent time playing with and learning from Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, and Tiny Ledbetter (Leadbelly’s niece). Along with Tiny Robinson, Gerlach made recordings Reverend Gary Davis in 1957 that later became the album Pure Religion and Bad Company (77 Records, 1961). Knowing he spent time in Washington Square Park and the Folklore Center, it was no surprise to find images of Gerlach in the Photo-Sound Associates images in the Ron Cohen Collection (20239). Photo-Sound Associates photographer, Ray Sullivan documented this concert by Gerlach, on his 12-string, and Reverend Gary Davis at Town Hall on 8 March,1958. For more images seeImage Folder PF-20239/007_02 in the finding aid for the Ron Cohen Collection (20239). Gerlach moved to California in the early 1960s and lived there until his death in 2009. He became well known woodworker, luthier, craftsman (he was reportedly building an airplane in his attic) and musician. He continued to play, if sporadically, around town, often at Los Angeles laundromats, and was a regular at McCabe’s Guitar Store where Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal likely picked up a few pointers.

We would love to have been at this concert in 1958. You can hear at least one tune by Gerlach online, his version of Gallows Pole.”

20239_pf0008_01_0014_Gary_Davis_Town Hall_1958_Photo by Ray Sullivan_Southern Folklife Collection20239_pf0008_01_0011_Fred_Gerlach and Gary_Davis_Town Hall_1958_Photo by Ray Sullivan_Southern Folklife Collection.jpg

Out of the stacks: a sampling from the SFC reference shelf



Fun research in the Southern Folklife Collection today. Always great to have an opportunity to dig through the SFC reference books. If you’d like to join us for some research, please visit Wilson Library and jump right in with one of these texts, like The golden years : Kitty Wells (pictured above).

ML3481D53_A_Study_of_the_Ballads_of_a_Mexican_American_Hero005The Kennedy corridos : a study of the ballads of a Mexican American hero


Medicine fiddle : a humanities discussion guide, a film by Michael Loukinen


Giant photos Country Music program book


Country Music Spectacular Souvenir Album




American Folk Music in the Ivory Coast, 1983


Participants from the U.S. and the Ivory Coast at the Festival of Traditional American Dance, Abidjan, Ivory Coast, 1983. Photo includes: Eileen Golden, Mike Seeger, Fris Holloway, Sandman Sims, Donny Golden, John Dee Holeman, and Alan Belt.

In 1983, the U.S. State Department sponsored a tour by American folk musicians through Zaire, Cameroon, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast. Along with Mike Seeger, the tour group also included Liz Carroll, Mick Moloney, Eileen Golden, Fris Holloway, Sandman Sims, Donny Golden, John Dee Holeman and Alan Belt.

Part of this tour included a Festival of Traditional American Dance held in Abidjan, Ivory Coast between September 26-October 1, 1983, in which the U.S. and Ivorian musicians demonstrated folk music, instruments, and dancing from their respective locales.


Mike Seeger demonstrates the jaw harp. In audience are Donny and Eileen Golden, and Liz Carroll.


An unidentified Ivorian musician demonstrates an African instrument similar to the jaw harp.


An unidentified Ivorian musician demonstrates an African instrument similar to the jaw harp.


Mike Seeger (guitar), Liz Carroll (fiddle), and Mick Moloney (banjo)


Ivorian dancers and musicians perform as part of the Festival of Traditional American Dance, 1983.

The trip was considered a success, except (as noted in the letter below) that one of the American tour members lost track of their Converse sneakers.

20009_pf0234_0025These images were preserved as part of the Southern Folklife Collection‘s digitization project, “From the Piedmont to the Swamplands: Preserving Southern Traditional Music,” funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. They are available in the Mike Seeger Collection as Image Folder 20009/0025.

Out of the stacks: digging in the SFC reference books

Pop_Scrapbook_004_ ML400 .P67 1966_Southern_Folklife_CollectionFun research in the Southern Folklife Collection today. Always great to have an opportunity to dig through the SFC reference books. If you’d like to join us for some research, please visit Wilson Library and jump right in with one of these texts, like The “Pop” scrapbook : photos and stories of the top recording artists.

Country_Music_News_	ML3524 .C665 1969_Southern_Folklife_CollectionCountry music news, 1948-1969 ; Top records, 1944-1969

Moods_of_Elvis_003_ML420.P96 F27 2009_Southern_Folklife_CollectionMoods of Elvis / David Fair, Chad Fair, James Brohawn. Memphis_Blues_001_	ML3521 .B43 2006_Southern_Folklife_CollectionMemphis blues : birthplace of a music tradition William Bearden ; foreword by Knox Phillips

Heroes_of_Blues_Jazz_And_Country_002_ML394 .C35 2006 _Southern_Folklife_CollectionR. Crumb’s heroes of blues, jazz, & country

Cataloger’s Corner: Stuart Hamblen for President


Stuart Hamblen is known today as a singing cowboy who produced radio programs such as “Covered Wagon Jubilee” and eventually “Cowboy Church of the Air.” He was also a major songwriter and recording star—one of the first C&W artists to record for Decca.

A Texas native, Hamblen moved to Los Angeles in the 1920s to start a career in radio. After a brief stint performing with the Beverly Hillbillies, he began hosting his own show. He also began making headlines for his drinking, gambling, and debt-related lawsuits, as well as for owning and training hunting dogs and racehorses. (Incidentally, he was the first person to send a horse to a race on an airplane–Flying Tiger was the name of the airline).

In 1938, Hamblen became one of a series of C&W celebrity-politicians when he ran as a Democrat for congressman of L.A.’s 11th district. (Other examples included W. Lee O’Daniel who served as governor of Texas, Jimmy Davis who served as governor of Louisiana, and Roy Acuff who ran for governor of Tennessee). Hamblen’s candidacy apparently disturbed many Democrats from his district, largely because he campaigned in character, incorporating his guitar and cowboy persona. One Los Angeles Times article referred to him as the “Bourbon candidate for Congress.” Not surprisingly, he did not win.

A decade later, in 1949, Hamblen attended one of evangelist Billy Graham’s tent meetings in Los Angeles—the meeting inspired him to quit drinking and to devote his life to the Christian faith. When his radio station KMTR subsequently asked him to promote a beer brand on air, he refused and lost his show. The beer ad incident put Hamblen on the radar of the Prohibition Party; after General Douglas MacArthur refused the invitation to run as the 1952 Prohibition presidential candidate, Hamblen was recruited for the role. With a retired professor (Enoch A. Holtwick) as a running mate, Hamblen came in 4th place, with 73,412 popular votes.

At the Prohibition Party’s convention, Hamblen played his hit song “It Is No Secret (What God Can Do),” treating it as the theme song of the campaign. At some point during 1951-1952, he used the song as well in a 78rpm recording (likely intended for radio play), entitled “Hamblen for President.” On each side, Hamblen explains his platform and emphasizes that prohibition would not be reinstated if he were elected. A few excerpts from both sides are below.

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The recording is cataloged and available at the Southern Folklife Collection as 78-17711, along with many of Hamblen’s commercial recordings and reel-to-reel tapes of his radio show “Cowboy Church of the Air.”

Graphic design of the Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention at Union Grove

20016_0069_Festival Program_1963001

Grateful for the opportunity to research in the Fiddlers’ Grove Collection (20016) this week, my eyes were drawn to the iconic graphic design of the 1960s era souvenir programs in Folder 69 of the collection. Especially ripe for analysis is the advertisement for the Davie Electric Membership Corp, “Serving 9000 in six counties,” including North Iredell. That electrical plug really knows how to swing on that banjo.

The 1964 program also included a list of the the performers from 1963, including Bascombe Lunsford, the Mountain Ramblers from Galax, Jim Craver, The Blue Sky Boys, J. E. Mainer, Grandma Pearly Davis, and more. See the full line up below. The 2015 festival is coming up May 22-24 in Union Grove, NC. For more information about the Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention and Fiddlers’ Grove Campground, visit the Southern Folklife Collection at the 4th floor reading room in The Wilson Library.

20016_0069_Festival Program_196300220016_0069_Festival Program_196300420016_0069_Festival Program_196300320016_0069_Festival Program_1963005


Cabin fever Friday at the Southern Folklife Collection

 Paul Clayton and others, playing a folk game or making a diorama, or something on a floor 20239_pf0058_01_0044_Ron Cohen Colleciton_Southern Folklife Collection _UNC Chapel Hill20239_pf0064_05_0006_20239_pf0058_01_0039_Ron Cohen Colleciton_Southern Folklife Collection _UNC Chapel HillIt’s not Boston, but here in North Carolina we’ve had an unexpected, late winter, one-two punch the past couple of weeks with ice and snow. The amount of school and work that has been cancelled has certainly fueled some cabin fever creativity in our own households, but not sure if anyone has gone so far as Paul Clayton, Bob Brill, Dave van Ronk, Lee Hoffman, and their friends did at this party in New York circa 1959. We’re really not sure what’s going in these images–a game, a collaborative sculpture, a ceremonial practice, building a diorama? Let us know if you have any ideas. All images in this post were photographed by Ray Sullivan, a partner in Photo-Sound Associates along with photographer Aaron Rennert and sound-recordist Joel Katz, a team dedicated to documenting the folk scene in New York City in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Over 4000 images from the Photo-Sound Associates have been digitized and can be viewed through Ron Cohen Collection (20239) finding aid via the Southern Folklife Collection.

Lee Hoffman_20239_pf0058_01_0039_Ron Cohen Colleciton_Southern Folklife Collection _UNC Chapel HillNo matter what’s going on, it looks pretty fun. And Bob Brill is providing musical accompaniment on the kazumpet while Dave van Ronk and Paul Clayton harmonize accompaniment. We hope you had at least as much fun during your last “weather event.” Looking forward to Spring!Paul Clayton watching Bob Brill play kazumpet_20239_pf0058_01_0029_Ron Cohen Collection_Southern FOlklife Collection_UNC Chapel HillDave Van Ronk and Paul Clayton_20239_pf0058_01_0038_Ron Cohen Collection_Southern Folklife Collection_UNC Chapel Hill


Songs from Limestone Country


We came across an interesting bit of American industrial history in a recent 78rpm cataloging session in the Southern Folklife Collection: a circa 1948 record promoting the Indiana Limestone Company, featuring on its label a relatively complex illustration of the limestone mining process. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Indiana’s limestone industry, it includes two songs honoring the state’s favorite sedimentary rock : “Old Limestone Quarry” and “Girl from Oolitic.” (Oolitic is a town in Indiana known for its oolite, a kind of limestone).

We cannot find any information on this release, except that John H. McGee applied for copyright for the two songs in 1949.

We’ve included an excerpt from Side A here, which features an unknown vocalist and big band:

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The record is available at the SFC as call no. 78-17816.


Music Biographer Barry Mazor and Musician Dom Flemons at Wilson Library Feb. 6


Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music

Friday, Feb. 6, 2015
Wilson Special Collections Library
Pleasants Family Assembly Room
5:30 p.m. Reception (program will begin at 6 p.m.)
6 p.m. Book Talk by Barry Mazor
7 p.m. Concert by Dom Flemons
Free and open to the public
Information: Liza Terll, Friends of the Library,
(919) 548-1203


Music scout, record producer, and industry visionary Ralph Peer helped shape and popularize American country and roots music from the 1920s through the ’40s. On Feb. 6, at 6 p.m., a new biography of Peer will be the topic of a talk by the author, Barry Mazor, at UNC’s Wilson Special Collections Library. A concert by musician Dom Flemons will follow at 7 p.m.

The Southern Folklife Collection (SFC) in Wilson Library is the program sponsor. Mazor and Flemons have both conducted extensive research in the Collection and are friends with one another, said SFC curator Steve Weiss.

Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music was released in November to critical acclaim. The New York Times called it “a beautifully written portrait of an utterly fascinating man. One is continually astonished at how a shipping clerk from Independence, Mo., at various junctions in his life, made decisions that transformed American music by bringing new artists and forms of music — from country, blues and bluegrass to early rock ‘n’ roll — to millions of citizens who had not yet encountered them.”

Peer’s accomplishments include sparking the blues craze by recording Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues;” discovering the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers; and helping transform popular music well through the postwar years.

In the stacks of the SFC, Mazor — a winner of the 2008 Charlie Lamb Award for Excellence in Country Music Journalism — was able to draw on a unique recorded interview with Ralph Peer, as well as correspondence between Peer and musician Sara Carter of The Carter Family, found in the SFC’s Ed Kahn Collection. Those letters will be on display at the event.

Flemons_333Flemons, too, has deep ties to the SFC. In 2012, the Grammy-winning banjo player and former member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops described in an interview how video recordings and interviews in the Collection have informed his work. “There is something that a visual artifact can do that is greater than a mere recording,” he said. “You get to see the player and performer in the flesh and see how they played the music.”

The Dom Flemons Papers, 2004-2009, are part of the Southern Folklife Collection, and consist of audio and video recordings, photographs, programs, and related materials that Flemons has donated. Approximately 200 photographs from the collection, including publicity stills of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, may be viewed online, via the UNC Library’s Carolina Digital Repository.